Victims of the Montreal experiments at the Allan Memorial Institute rallied Saturday morning for justice, an apology and compensation for the abuse and torture they suffered.
The rally started at the Allan Memorial Institute and ended with a march to the Roddick Gates outside the McGill University campus.
“My dad was at the Royal Victoria asthma clinic and they told him if he went to the Allan they could cure his asthma,” co-organizer Lana Mills Sowchucks said. “Well, that didn’t happen; he went in there and had 54 high-voltage shock treatments followed by 54 grand mal seizures. He had been put in an insulin coma with a recording going around, ‘your mother hates you.'”
Seventy-seven victims received compensation from the Canadian government in 1992 for experimental treatments by Dr. Donald Ewen Cameron at the Allan Memorial Institute. The treatments included torture techniques involving drug-induced comas and intensive electroconvulsive therapy aimed at reprogramming the brain. The Montreal-based psychiatrist received funding from the Canadian government and the American Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).
Sowchucks recalls visiting her father at the Allan Institute when she was three years old.
“I remember coming to visit my father with my mother holding my hand climbing those stairs and I haven’t seen those stairs since I was that young. They just took advantage of people; they never consented to any of these treatments, they were used as guinea pigs,” Sowchucks said.
“His whole life was destroyed. Our lives were destroyed, we went into poverty, we didn’t have much because he couldn’t work. My poor mother, I’m doing this for both of them. I got a tattoo on my heart for my dad. I never thought I would get a tattoo with my father’s name on my heart.”
In a written statement, the McGill University Health Centre (MUHC) and the Royal Victoria Hospital deny responsibility, saying Cameron was not their employee.
“The McGill University Health Centre acknowledges that Dr. Donald Ewen Cameron carried out experiments at the Allan Memorial Institute during the ’50s and ’60s,” the statement reads. “The research attributed to him continues to be controversial, and its consequences, unfortunate.
“The courts have already established that the Royal Victoria Hospital was not considered, by law, the employer of Dr. Cameron; at the time, he exercised his profession in an autonomous and independent manner.”
Jeff Orenstein of the Consumer Law Group attended the rally, saying that raising awareness for what transpired in the 1950s and 1960s is important.
“You have stories of people who were doing well in life, had loving parents, their parents left this institution and they were not the same anymore, there was no love in the families, people lost their houses, so the suffering continues,” Orenstein said.
A group of victims of the Montreal experiments in the 1950s and family members are seeking compensation through a class-action lawsuit after 77 patients were already compensated in the ’90s. They want to see someone take accountability. Neither the Canadian government, the CIA, McGill, nor the Royal Victoria Hospital has issued formal apologies for their involvement with the Montreal experiments.
Orenstein said he does not think that the compensation that victims received in 1992 is enough.
“We are seeking damages, damages for the victims, the families … anyone who has basically suffered and they are still suffering,” he said. “This is why we launched a class-action lawsuit because the families deserve more compensation than they received back in 1992.”